The Obama administration has vetoed a US sales ban placed on older iPhone and iPad models by the United States International Trade Commission last June. The move was made over the weekend, and reverses a ruling that would’ve marked a victory for Samsung in its ongoing legal battles against Apple.
Two months ago, the ITC said that Apple had infringed upon a mobile communications patent owned by Samsung, specifically in the AT&T models of its iPhone 4, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G. It ordered the Cupertino clan to halt the import, sale and distribution of those older models in the US as a result.
The patent in question, number 7,706,348, deals with the encoding and decoding of information on CDMA wireless networks. It is considered an SEP, or “standards essential patent”, which means that Samsung was required to license it as its own.
The ITC’s final ruling was briefly postponed last week, but would’ve gone into effect today, August 5, unless the President vetoed the decision. He did, and now President Obama is the first Commander in Chief to overturn an ITC product ban in 26 years.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman officially announced the Obama administration’s decision in a letter to IDC chairman Irving Williamson. In it, he expresses concerns over product bans that revolve around SEPs, as well as the SEP holders that may assert the patent “to exclude the implementer of the standard from a market to obtain a higher price for use of the patent than would have been possible before the standard was set, when alternative technologies could have been chosen.”
Essentially, Froman is saying he doesn’t want companies to unfairly leverage essential patents for their own monetary gain. He asks that the ITC “to examine thoroughly and carefully” whether or not its future decisions regarding SEPs are “in the public interest.”
As expected, Apple was pleased with the decision. “We applaud the Administration for standing up for innovation in this landmark case,” an Apple spokeswoman told AllThingsD. “Samsung was wrong to abuse the patent system in this way.”
Also as expected, Samsung felt just the opposite. “We are disappointed that the U.S. Trade Representative has decided to set aside the exclusion order issued by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC),” the company told 9to5Mac. “The ITC’s decision correctly recognized that Samsung has been negotiating in good faith and that Apple remains unwilling to take a license.”
If it went into effect, the sales ban most likely wouldn’t have done huge damage to Apple’s share in the marketplace. Its newer and higher-selling products, such as the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad 4 and iPad mini, all do not infringe on the patent, but the decision still would’ve marked a notable win for its biggest mobile rival. Samsung, meanwhile, has new ITC issues to attend to, as it will face a verdict this Friday on whether or not some of its products should face import bans for infringing on Apple patents.